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Rockets’ Chris Paul feels ‘great’ after back-to-back

Rockets guard Chris Paul had not played both games of a back-to-back since returning from his strained hamstring Jan. 27, sitting out the second game in as many nights Feb. 2.

He had played the second game in as many nights Dec. 20, cheap nba jerseys from china
the game he was hurt against the Heat. But after completing another back-to-back against the Heat on Thursday, he said he felt “great.”

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“Great. It felt cool. I felt great,” Paul said after Thursday’s game. “We could play tomorrow if they want to.”

Paul struggled through much of Thursday’s game, but finished strong, hitting four free throws and the win-clinching jump shot down the stretch.

“It was key for us,” Rockets guard James Harden said of Paul’s finish. “That was the winning part of the game. I put the ball in his hands, he made some foul shots and big-time foul shots, That’s what we need. He was confident. He came up clutch for us. Big-time shots.”

This is the Jimmy Butler the Sixers need to make deep playoff push

A little rest and a taste of spring did a lot for Jimmy Butler.

Butler had 22 points, six rebounds and seven assists while playing with the type of assertiveness coach Brett Brown says the 76ers need from him in Philadelphia’s 123-114 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Friday night.

Joel Embiid added 21 points and 17 rebounds and made some big plays on both ends of the court late in the fourth quarter for the 76ers, who won their third in a row to pull even with idle Indiana for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Philadelphia holds the tiebreaker with the Pacers and is trying to maintain hold of home court in a first-round playoff series, something Brown said he coveted before the contest. Fifth-seeded Boston is two games behind the 76ers and Pacers.

In order to secure home court and go deep in the playoffs, Brown knows he’ll need Butler to play the way he did against the Kings.

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“He was our bell ringer,” Brown said. “We will not be as good as we can be without him playing the way he played tonight.”

Butler rested in Philadelphia’s last game, cheap nhl jerseys
a 106-99 victory over Cleveland on Tuesday. And he felt even more refreshed by Friday’s weather in Philly, which reached 75 degrees.

“That’s all it takes,” Butler said. “Rest and good weather. It makes my knees not ache.”

And it’s only going to warm up as the postseason draws near, a great sign for 76ers fans.

“The snow is gone,” Butler said. “We’re good. We’re ready to rock.”

Tobias Harris and JJ Redick each added 19 points and Ben Simmons contributed 18 for the 76ers.

Harrison Barnes and De’Aaron Fox had 16 points apiece for Sacramento, which lost its third in a row and seventh in the last nine to further hurt its playoff push. The Kings, who last made the postseason in 2006, entered ninth in the West, five games behind the Clippers.

“We’re playing hard, we’re playing the right way, we’re playing together,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said. “The wins are going to come.”

LeBron James ‘Activated’ in Lakers’ Comeback Win Over Rockets

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Lakers described last weekend’s N.B.A. All-Star break as an opportunity for a much-needed reset, with the hope that they could ultimately make a playoff push after spending a few days apart. None of it sounded very convincing.

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But when the team reconvened for practice on Wednesday morning, LeBron James said his level of intensity had been “activated,” as if he were a superhero cheap nba jerseys who had flipped a switch. He does not usually activate himself this early in the season, he said, but the Lakers need all of him now — in large part because they had lost so much ground when he was sidelined for about a month with a groin injury.

“We would have loved to have had success when I was out, but we didn’t, so this is where we are right now,” James said.

And when asked how he would elevate the play of his younger teammates, he put it simply: “We don’t have a choice.”

Sixers GM Elton Brand sets high expectations, discusses Markelle Fultz’s exit

“I’d be disappointed for sure if we don’t get to the Eastern Conference Finals and do well,” general manager Elton Brand said at a press conference Friday morning.

The expectations changed for the Eastern Conference’s fifth-place team because of a flurry of moves before Thursday’s trade deadline. The Sixers’ biggest acquisition was power forward Tobias Harris, a fringe All-Star talent.

In a win-now move, they acquired him along with 7-foot-3 center Boban Marjanovic and power forward Mike Scott from the Los Angeles Clippers for rookie guard Landry Shamet, veterans Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala and four draft picks: a protected 2020 first-rounder, the Miami Heat’s 2021 first-rounder, a Detroit Pistons 2021 second-rounder, and the Pistons’ 2023 second-rounder.

The Sixers also acquired James Ennis from the Houston Rockets for the right to swap second-round picks in the 2021 draft. And they traded Markelle Fultz to the Orlando Magic for Jonathon Simmons, a 2019 second-round pick, and a 2020, top-20-protected first-rounder.

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Marjanovic, Scott, Ennis, and Simmons will provide much-needed depth on the bench.

Meanwhile, the Sixers believe Harris complements and strengthens the core group they already had in center Joel Embiid, point guard Ben Simmons, and small forward Jimmy Butler. Embiid cheap nba jerseys china
was voted an All-Star starter for the second consecutive season, Simmons was named an All-Star reserve this season, and Butler is a four-time All-Star.

With the additions, Brand was asked how disappointed he would be if the Sixers didn’t get to the NBA Finals.

“Our goal is to get to the Finals,” Brand said. “You have to get to the Eastern Conference Finals before you get to the Finals. But yeah, absolutely, I’d be disappointed.”

The Sixers (34-20) are a half-game behind the Boston Celtics for fourth place in the conference standings. The Milwaukee Bucks (40-13), Toronto Raptors (40-16), and Indiana Pacers (36-19) are the top three teams.

As exciting as the Sixers have been this season, they weren’t quite built to reach the conference finals. But after the trade, they’re on the same level as Celtics, the Raptors and the Bucks, who had the best odds to get there.

Can the Rockets Repeat Game Four?

he Rockets started off game four against the Golden State Warriors down 12–0. Late in the third quarter, when it seemed that he couldn’t miss a three if he tried, Steph Curry busted out his trademark shimmy. Golden State outscored Houston by 17 points in that quarter; since Steve Kerr took over as head coach in 2014, the Warriors have been 51–0 when outscoring their opponents by 15 or more in the third quarter. They hadn’t lost a playoff game in Oakland in two years.

What followed was one of the best quarters of basketball the Rockets have played all year and the worst one we’ve seen from the Warriors in recent memory (they sunk only 17 percent of shots, scoring 12). That’s what it took for the Rockets to pull themselves off the mat and avoid the knockout, winning the game 95-92. The performance has been described as “gutsy,” and it certainly was. In order to pull it off, it took everything the Rockets had left in the tank, because that’s what it takes to topple the Warriors. The problem is, they might not have anything left for game five.

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Houston only had seven players see the floor Tuesday night, and one of those, Gerald Green, played for only twelve minutes. The other six played nearly the entire game, cheap nba jerseys from china
with four players totaling over forty minutes. Just Draymond Green and Kevin Durant played more than forty minutes for Golden State, which had nine players that saw significant action.

Teams have to shorten the bench during the playoffs, but the Rockets took it to the extreme. Not only did they play their stars significant minutes, but they were taxing minutes too. Mike D’Antoni praised the team’s defensive effort (even James Harden was playing defense!) for wearing down the Warriors, but lockdown defense tires the defender just as much as it does the person being guarded. There’s a reason LeBron James reportedly picks his spots to rest throughout playoff games. Most of the time he’ll take breathers on defense.

On top of that, Chris Paul—in his thirteenth season—has already been dealing with a nagging foot injury throughout the playoffs. Without Paul playing like he did in game four, it’s almost impossible to imagine the Rockets standing much chance against Curry, Durant, and the rest of the Warriors. Harden can’t do everything on his own.

Why the Rockets’ Failure to Launch Won’t Lead to a Course Correction

ast season, James Harden summed up the Rockets’ playing style simply: “We’re going to get shots,” he said. “We’re going to play our game no matter who we play.”

Monday night, the Rockets got their shots. They played their game. And it cost them a trip to the NBA finals when the Golden State Warriors bested them 101–92.

The stat plaguing Houston after the game seven loss is 0 for 27. That’s the number of three-pointers the Rockets missed in a row, including an 0–14 three-point shooting performance in the third quarter that erased their eleven-point halftime lead. They went 7–44 in total from beyond the arc (making only one the entire second half), easily their worst shooting performance of the season. Before game seven’s 15.9 percent effort, the Rockets hadn’t shot worse than 20 percent on threes all season.

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It wasn’t like the Warriors were playing suffocating defense. The Rockets had open looks, but their shooting just went ice cold. When reporters asked Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni if his team should have given up on threes, he said, “No, that’s what you do. That’s where the game’s going. No, now we should have made some more, but no, I don’t lose confidence in that. No, we’ve got the right formula.”

When they asked Harden whether there was any point when he thought the team should change strategy, he said, “No. There wasn’t.”
This is who the Rockets are. They were custom built to cheap nba jerseys
beat the Warriors by surrounding all-time great scorer James Harden with athletic teammates who could shoot threes and play clampdown defense. Even with Chris Paul out due to an injury, it took a historically bad shooting performance for them to lose game seven. No team has ever missed 27 three-pointers consecutively in a playoff game, according to Elias Sports Bureau, and it’s unclear whether or not any team has ever missed that many in a regular game. It’s hard to believe that anybody could have. According to FiveThirtyEight, the chances of the Rockets missing 27 threes in a row were 1 in 70,000.

Of course, it wasn’t only game seven that cost the Rockets a finals berth. There were the other three losses too. This series was, like the playoffs tend to be, predicated on streaks. The Warriors had theirs, and the Rockets responded until they couldn’t. Houston went into Oakland and won, something no team has done in the playoffs since 2016. Losing Paul was a devastating blow, and fans will play the “what if” game for years to come, but looking back, it never feels like Houston was overmatched, even with the point god on the bench. We already know that the Warriors are one of the best teams of all time, so it’s understandable that the series went seven. Of course it went to seven, because these teams were that evenly matched. What was shocking was that the Rockets seemed to be in total control for the first half of game seven and then lost it completely. Maybe it was nerves, maybe it was exhaustion, but it wasn’t for a lack of talent. It feels today like the Warriors stole the series. It’s hard to imagine we would have been saying that following game one’s thirteen-point loss.

Rockets head to rematch with Pistons expecting tougher test than Wednesday’s narrow win

Few games will better test the Rockets’ ability to defend big men with guards more than Wednesday’s against the Pistons, though Friday’s matchup against the Pistons might.

Though Detroit’s Blake Griffin burned the Rockets from the 3-point line, the Pistons tend to emphasize attacking the paint with their throw-back frontcourt combination of Griffin and Cheap Houston Rockets Jerseys Andre Drummond. They are enough of a threat inside that the Rockets dialed back some of their usual switching and had P.J. Tucker on Griffin any time the Pistons star was on the floor.

That all changed when Tucker drew consecutive technical fouls and an automatic ejection in the third quarter.
But the Rockets spent the past two seasons happily putting guards on big men. On a rare night they did not want to do it, they had to,

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“That’s just a part of our game defensively,” guard Eric Gordon said. “We know a lot of our guards are going to be guarding the bigs. (On Wednesday) we did a little bit of more bigs stay on (their man.) Clint (Capela) and P.J. tried to stay with their matchup. Of course, we’re going to do a lot of switching, and when P.J. came out it made it tough. But we’ve always got to adjust to whoever is out. You’re going to see that a lot. You’re going to continue to see that the next game. We have to continue to be aggressive with them.”

That worked well despite losing Tucker for the final 16 minutes. The Pistons’ 46 points were just short of their average in the paint , but were bolstered by 19 second-chance points. But the real damage came when Griffin went on a 5-for-5, fourth-quarter run of 3-point shooting as James Harden battled him in the lane.

Taking on that assignment inside would seem a significant challenge while carrying the Rockets’ offense on the other end. The Rockets typically put Harden on far more limited shooters. But he said he has grown accustomed to also matching up with big men, a central part of the Rockets’ switch-heavy defensive philosophy.

“I’ve been doing this for years now, so it’s not very draining,” Harden said, “I’ve gotten used to it. You got to give Blake some credit. He made some big 3s in that fourth quarter. Most of them were contested. But for the most part we did a good job.”

But the Rockets lamented how they closed the game, not so much for giving up 41 fourth-quarter points, given Griffin’s excellence, but for the fouls and turnovers that filled the fourth quarter after the Rockets built a 14-point lead.

“We had the game about five times in our hand, and, you know, we kind of try to give it away,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “You got to give them credit, Griffin makes his shots, made some hard shots, but at the same time we had time to put it away a few times and we just fouled them silly or just didn’t play.”

That did not cost the Rockets on Wednesday, but in the first game of a rare home-and-home series of games between the teams, there was a sense the matchup was far closer than it needed to be as the Rockets begin a stretch with seven of nine games on the road.

Rockets start slow, finish worse in falling to Cavaliers

CLEVELAND — The first three minutes were all it took to see where things were heading.

The details would change along the way. The shortcomings that would keep the Rockets struggling just to stay within single digits and a puncher’s chance were not always the same. But when the Rockets so quickly showed what was lacking — intensity, focus, determination — that would be impossible to overcome.

The Rockets’ first four possessions of the game ended the same. Turnover. Turnover. Turnover. Turnover. The Rockets spent the rest of the night trying to find and maintain the missing intensity. But while allowing waves of straight-line drives, second-chance shots and points off turnovers the Rockets could only delay the inevitable Saturday until the Cavaliers pulled away 117-108 for the Rockets’ second loss in as many nights since their five-game winning streak.
Even after their slow start, the Rockets did seem to recover, taking a five-point lead. But once the Cavs were invited to roll, the Rockets could not stop them when they had to, blaming the way they started even more than the finish when Cleveland pulled away.

“That was the main problem,” Rockets center Clint Capela said. “We need to start with more energy, more intensity. It will definitely help us throughout the course of the game and not put us in the situation you have to be perfect on defense in the second half, we can’t make any mistakes. Teams get more confidence. They start shooting well. Once a team is going like that, it’s always hard to stop them.”

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This is nothing new. It was not even different from the game the night before, Wholesale nba jerseys
when the Pistons put up 61 first-half points. The Cavs beat that, scoring 63. But Saturday, the Rockets — who are ranked third defensively in the second half this season, but fell to 27th in the first half of games — could not turn things around.

“We were very soft the first half,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “It’s been a little bit of a problem we’ve had in the first half. Teams, we get them comfortable. Then, they feel good about themselves. We picked it up in the second half, but a lot of times that’s too late. They make some hard shots, like (Friday) night and then (Saturday). Mentally and physically, we were really soft to start the game.”

The Rockets rallied in the fourth quarter to within a chance. With the Rockets down 12, P.J. Tucker scored inside before Eric Gordon, who had 28 points in by far his best shooting game of the season, drained a 3. Moments later, James Harden, who had 40, sank a technical free throw and Capela put in two more, bringing the Rockets to within four with 4:52 left.

They still needed to show they could get stops and defensive rebounds to complete a run. Instead, on three consecutive possessions, the Cavs spread the floor and had their guards, Collin Sexton and Jordan Clarkson go one-on-one, with the Rockets powerless to stop them. When the Rockets doubled Sexton, Rodney Hood burned them with a 3, pushing the lead back to a safe 11.

Sexton and Clarkson combined for 49 points on 22-of-37 shooting, with Clarkson scoring 12 in the fourth quarter to put the game away much as Reggie Jackson had for the Pistons in the fourth quarter and overtime the night before.

But even that made D’Antoni think not of how the Rockets finish, but how things started.

Rockets fall to Cavaliers

Another night, another city on a lake, same result. It’s a bit tiresome as the Rockets undo much of their great work of the past two weeks as SEGBABA strikes hard.

After overtime in Detroit in a game that left a bitter taste, Wholesale jerseys and recriminations that needn’t be confined solely to the Rockets, this one can be laid at the feet of Houston, and plaudits can be given to the suddenly feisty Cavs.

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Tip your cap to the Cavaliers – there wasn’t a contested mid-range they couldn’t hit tonight. It doesn’t matter in a one game sample if a shot is lower percentage. If they go in, they count. If a lot go in, you win. I doubt Colin Sexton has too many more nights going 13-18 from mid-range, but tonight the rookie seemingly couldn’t miss whatever he threw at the basket, so that’s a feather in his cap.

Cleveland went Old School tonight, and drove into mid-range fall away shots, and crashed the offensive glass with lots of springy ballhandlers without a conscience, and athletes who might have limited games, but could overwhelm the Rockets lone big, Clint Capela. This may be a winning strategy against Houston, but it won’t typically be found at the upper echelon of the NBA, so the worries this outcome instills in me are limited.

The Rockets rested Chris Paul, and Eric Gordon obliged by breaking out of his slump. At some point, one hopes, all the Rockets will be playing within their expected range of competence.

A downside, besides the loss, is the big minutes put up by the starters as Mike D’Antoni chased a win that never got closer than four points of a furious Rockets runs.

Another great offensive output by James Harden (40pts) was wasted.

Harden – 44 minutes

Capela – 40 minutes

Tucker -42 minutes

Gordon – 40 minutes

Fortunately the next game isn’t until, oh wait, it isn’t four days off. It’s Monday, in Washington, as the Rockets seemingly play one game or so at home, and then go on the road forever, with a compressed schedule.

The depth is an issue – one ballhandler plus Eric Gordon isn’t a recipe for success. One big, with occasional contributions from Hartenstein, isn’t a recipe for success. No damned actual PFs is a problem.

I’m not sure I’ve recapped a win yet this year, so I may stop doing them for a while.

NOTE – For various critics out there who think I spend a lot of time on officiating, I think that I don’t. I bring it up when I feel it’s warranted. The reffing wasn’t great tonight, but it wasn’t blindingly strange, and it wasn’t highly in favor of one team or another. FT margin isn’t even an issue, as it should go with attacking and aggressiveness – if both teams are roughly the same, it should be roughly the same. Tonight it was, and Cleveland’s shot making, rebounding, and younger legs at home told the story.

How nine teams are navigating their biggest chemistry questions

Over the summer, each of the NBA’s 30 teams assembled a roster informed by some of the smartest experts in professional sports. The best basketball scouts in the world studied players to identify skills that could help their teams.

Analytic departments performed deep dives into hundreds of names to uncover undervalued players who can add wins on the margins. Salary cap gurus considered the long-term risks that accompany roster candidates. Medical specialists examined health histories to ensure that their teams wouldn’t waste valuable resources on talent that will never see the floor at 100 percent.

Yet for all the fancy new tools and innovative systems NBA organizations employ, they still don’t have a reliable way to measure what might be the most important element of all — chemistry.

EDITOR’S PICKS

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As the Wolves sort through what’s left after one of the most embarrassing episodes in franchise history, another major move could be on the horizon in Minnesota.

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Why Jimmy Butler may not solve Philly’s biggest problem
There are big questions about how Jimmy Butler fits next to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid in the Sixers’ struggling offense.
NBA Power Rankings: Butler trade aftermath and a new No. 1
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Philly and the Eastern Conference, a new No. 1 emerges to unseat the defending champs.

Brewing chemistry is the dark art of professional sports. Some teams have started to use psychometrics and others mechanisms to determine whether a free agent or draft pick will mesh with the current roster, but even those most enthusiastic about the potential to quantify a player’s emotional makeup the way scouts evaluate the mechanics of his jumper will tell you that’s a long way off. Understanding the ingredients that go into building chemistry is still the great unknown.

The first month of the season has been a graduate-level chemistry test for many high-profile teams, and the early results have varied.

Teams such as the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors have often looked seamless, blending new head coaches with new personnel in the locker room. The San Antonio Spurs’ decades-old structure has enabled them to avoid many of the chemistry issues that might plague more fragile teams.

The atmosphere around the Minnesota Timberwolves, Houston Rockets and Washington Wizards has been anything but amiable. And for the star-studded Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics, the principals are still feeling each other out, both on and off the floor.

Oakland Athletics exec Billy Beane has long been one of the sports world’s more vocal skeptics of chemistry as a cause of winning. “I have always viewed culture and chemistry as a by-product of success,” he wrote in 2014. “If you put the performances on the field the culture will follow.”

Do Milwaukee and Toronto appear to have good chemistry because they’ve won a ton of games? And maybe the chemistry that’s missing in Houston and Washington can be found during a five-game winning streak?

Today we head into the NBA lab to check in on the league’s most intriguing chemistry experiments. — Kevin Arnovitz